January 23, 2021 – By NJP
There are so many close colleges just outside of New Jersey that offer quality education as well as a high level of volleyball. Many of these schools focus on New Jersey high school players during their recruitment efforts and reap the benefit of building their programs with top Garden State talent. Misericordia University in Dallas, Pennsylvania is one of these schools. Dallas is just south of Scranton and can be reached by many parts of NJ in a little over an hour.
For NJ players, a big part of their decision-making focuses on a few main factors. Academics being first. And then “how will they fit in on the volleyball team” is probably a close second. The relationship developed with the Head Coach is usually a driving force in their decision to attend. At NJP, we would like to raise the level of transparency around college head coaches in NJ and in the surrounding areas where a large portion of NCAA bound New Jersey based students will attend.
Today, our focus is on Rob Wingert at Misericordia. We asked Rob a number of questions to inform and educate local high school volleyball players who might consider attending the school. Rob has filled-in the background of his own personal success at the game we love as well as his coaching style and expectations from his players. Rob is the Head Coach of both the Men’s and Women’s program for the Cougars and has established a very succesfull program in both after just a short period of time.
We encourage all NJ players who looking to attend college and play volleyball to educate themselves on the multitude of options that exist, visit the campus and spend time with the coach and the staff, and make the choice that is aligned with your personal goals.
“Coach Wingert is one of the best coaches in the country. He’s so dedicated to helping our team become better and better everyday. He’s very passionate about what he does and I respect him a ton for that.” – Anthony DePalma (Wayne Valley) 20′
Many top NJ players have chosen Misericordia as the school they want to spend the next four years attending. The list includes Lena Eldrenkamp (old Bridge), Sophie Winter (Hunterdon Central), Delaney Boyd (North Hunterdon), Annika Massa (West Morris Central) and Alexa Monro (Kinnelon) for the girls.
The boys have Connor Cusick (Howell), Ryan Miller (Clearview), Paul Schields (Bishop Eustace), Carl Bullock (Lacey Township) and Brian Ross (St. John Vianney) as well as new freshman recruits Anthony DePalma (Wayne Valley), James Walsh (SPF), Zane Martin (Clearview), and Alex Furlong (Jackson Memorial).
Rob has a great story and has shown great commitment to NJ players across the state.
Here is our interview with Coach Wingert…
“Coach is dedicated to making those around him better whether it be on or off the court, he’s always looking for ways to positively impacts the lives and abilities of those he works with, those he coaches, and others within the community.” – Ryan Miller (Clearview) 16′
Tell us a bit about yourself, Robert? (Family, location, high school, college, roots, etc…)
I grew up in an athletic background here in Northeastern Pennsylvania. My father coached Division III college soccer for 30+ years and has continued to work as an administrator after his retirement from coaching. My older sister also played Division III soccer so it was kind of my dream to compete athletically at a high level in Division III. I picked up volleyball at a Bishop Hoban (now Holy Redeemer) junior high clinic and started officially playing in 9th grade. When it was time to find a college, I knew I wanted to continue playing volleyball and with less than 75 Division III programs at the time, it narrowed my search. Luckily, I was able to find a great future home at Stevenson University in Maryland.
“As a current freshman, I have been impressed with the vision Coach Wingert has for our team. He has kept us focused on training and skill development while also driving us to be successful both on and off the court.” – Annika Massa (West Morris Central) 20′
Tell us about your college career as a student athlete at Stevenson? What awards did you win and what were your accomplishments?
My career at Stevenson was a dream come true. During my four years, our program accomplished a number of “firsts”. My freshman year (2013) we received our first AVCA National Ranking, defeated the #2 team in the country, and finished #9 in the final AVCA National Rankings while winning the schools 2nd ECAC Division III Championship. During our sophomore (2014) year we upset the #1 team in the country on the road, earned the top seed in the CVC Tournament before advancing to our first CVC Tournament Final. My junior year (2015) was a bit bumpier, but we still advanced to the CVC Tournament Final and captured the ECAC Division III Championship.
My senior year (2016) was definitely the most special one capturing our first CVC Tournament Championship, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history, and making it all the way to the Final Four. Personally, I would also describe my career in that same way, rising from a bench mob energy teammate, to a serving specialist, and finally receiving the keys to the offense my senior year winning the CVC Player of the Year becoming the first All-American in school history. Seeing the program remain in the national conversation on a team and individual level has really cemented the path that we helped to pave from 2012-2016. Most importantly, I am still incredibly close with so many of my teammates from that time and am lucky to call them my best friends.
In 2016, you took the Mustangs to the NCAA D3 Final Four as a player. Tell us about that experience.
It was an incredible experience. During the Fall of 2015, we had won Princeton’s fall tournament while defeating four Division I programs during the day (NJIT, Princeton, Sacred Heart, and George Mason)- so we knew that we had a special group. Much like any program, we had our ups and downs throughout the year, but we always knew we could compete with the nation’s top programs. After defeating Rutgers-Newark in the CVC final and punching our bid, we were hoping for a rematch with Carthage in the Elite 8 (we had lost to them 0-3 earlier in the season). We knew it was a good matchup for us and executed a great game plan. The sweetest part was definitely seeing all the posts about a predicted semi-final between Carthage and Springfield, to spoil those plans was awesome. Additionally, seeing all the future professionals that played during that NCAA tournament has been a cool retrospective. Our team of “misfit toys” competing at that level.
Tell us more about your recently recruited Misericordia University players and top prospects from New Jersey?
New Jersey has been a huge talent pool for us. Ryan Miller, our senior outside hitter, was actually our first ever commitment for our men’s program. He has been integral in the growth of our program and creating the pipeline for us to continue mining the area for talent. We also expect big years from guys like Brian Ross and Anthony DePalma. Guys like Connor Cusick are invaluable from the energy they bring to the gym. We are excited to see the growth and development from some of our other first years like Alex Furlong, Zane Martin, and Jimmy Walsh.
On the women’s side, we’ve been lucky as well. Our team is flush with talent from New Jersey. Alexa Monro has been a major contributor for us from the moment she got on campus. Our sophomore class has made huge strides and we can’t wait to get them back on the floor to see continued growth from them (Delaney Boyd, Lena Eldrenkamp, and Sophie Winter). We are also pumped for our freshman setter Annika Massa. Annika was a huge win for us on the recruiting trail and she did a great job adjusting to our philosophies and system this fall.
“Coach Wingert is one of the big reasons I came to Misericordia but another reason would be loving the campus and having a great physical therapy program.” – Anthony DePalma (Wayne Valley) 20‘
Do you plan to get a large base of players from the New Jersey area?
We are still working with a few of New Jersey’s top prospects in hopes to add them to our Class of 2021, on both the men and women’s side. There is such a rich history of volleyball clubs for the women, and the continued growth of the men’s game at both the club and collegiate level in the Garden State is very encouraging.
How would you describe your coaching style? What kind of players do best with your coaching style?
Our gym is definitely an intense place to be. I love to have our programs compete. We have rather large rosters for both programs and we take advantage of that with the intensity that we compete with on a daily basis. We also take a lot of feedback from our student-athletes and try to give agency and voice for the program. Players who want to compete every day and at every level definitely feel the most comfortable in our gym. Both our programs have been very successful in the classroom and community in addition to on the court, so we want student-athlete who strive to be better than they were the day before.
“My teammates made the transition over to MU an easy one and I know I’ve made friendships that will last a lifetime. I couldn’t picture myself anywhere else.” – Annika Massa (West Morris Central) 20′
What is it like balancing being Head Coach for both the Men’s and Women’s Volleyball programs at Misericordia?
There are definitely some challenges to balancing the responsibility of leading both programs, but it also presents so many advantages and opportunities. Our programs are one big family. The men and women do a great job of supporting each other year round. When you step onto campus, you have an automatic 40 friends, and folks who have your back.
The recruiting can be a challenge, especially with the women’s club season primarily taking place during the men’s collegiate season. Luckily, I have a great staff who bring a lot to the table for our program. Their contributions have been invaluable and we wouldn’t be where we are without them.
The coolest part is when our teams come together to support some of our community events such as our work with Patriot’s Cove or our Cougars Care Special Olympics Event.
“Misericordia as a whole has been everything I’ve needed, wanted & more. The schools community is welcoming, friendly and always looking for ways to help others, both within and outside of our community.” – Ryan Miller (Clearview) 16′
What drew you to the Misericordia opportunity four years ago? What was it like starting up the men’s program from scratch?
Undertaking both of Misericordia’s volleyball programs was an incredible opportunity. Growing up in the area, volleyball has never been a “premier sport” but Misericordia was a school with a rich history of athletic success (programs like women’s soccer and baseball). I knew we would have the support of the administration to optimize the success of both programs and showcase to high school students in the area that you could go onto compete in college volleyball (especially on the men’s side).
Starting the men’s program was a real gift. As I mentioned above, the opportunity to help introduce our area to high-level men’s collegiate volleyball has been cool. I can’t count the number of people who have come up to me after watching a match and commented on how much the enjoyed it. We are starting to see a growth for high school volleyball in our area with more players moving on to continue playing in college, and it’s been very rewarding to be a part of that legacy. Additionally, being able to grow and shape our program’s culture from the ground up is something I never imagined. Watching our student-athletes grow into mature young men through the lens of our program has made me endlessly proud.
How has the pandemic changed your recruiting process?
It has definitely presented new challenges. We found ourselves working hard to connect with prospective student-athletes virtually while still building relationships. As a staff, we also love to attend high school matches and see how our recruits compete and react in that environment. Losing that opportunity this fall was definitely tough, but we hope to be back in the stands for the upcoming New Jersey high school season.
Tell us about the Cougar program…
To summarize our program- Misericordia Volleyball is a family. If you are looking for a place to play high-level volleyball, receive an outstanding education, and build meaningful relationships that last beyond your college days- Misericorida Volleyball would be a great fit.
What word of encouragement or inspiration can you offer current high school level players who aspire to play at the collegiate level?
There are always ways to get better. Don’t ever be satisfied with where you are at. Play volleyball, watch film, hit the weights, always be doing something.
“Throughout his time with the program, coach Wingert has created a culture like no other between both his men’s and women’s volleyball programs. Thanks to all he’s done during his time at Misericordia, any talented individual who chooses to compete for our program is not only guaranteed a 4-year degree and a continued playing career, but also friendships that last a lifetime with fellow top-notch volleyball athletes.” – Ryan Miller (Clearview) 16′
Can you share some advice for current high school level volleyball players and students? (Technical, mental, recruitment, etc…).
From the recruitment side of things- I would make two recommendations. Communicate often and honestly. It’s our job to communicate so don’t ever feel like you are bothering us or updating us too often. From an honesty standpoint, be clear with coaches about what you are looking for and your interest in their school/program. Most of us are used to rejection, so just be open and honest.
Can you share one tip for a current high school player to up their game?
Don’t specialize! Make sure you learn how to play all positions and are comfortable with every skill. Coaches love versatile players. You never know what situation you may find yourself in and you never want to limit your individual opportunities.
“My experience at Misericordia has been great so far. I love the guys that I have around me, and Coach Wingert has established a great culture for his program.” – Alex Furlong (Jackson Memorial) 20‘
Are there any rule changes that you would like to see to better prepare NJ High School students for college?
5 Sets! Most New Jersey volleyballers play their first 5 set match once they get to college. It is a huge disadvantage that they don’t have the repetitions of playing that deep into the match or only playing a set to 15.
Tell us about your assistant coaches and other staff at Misericordia…
We have two full time graduate assistants on our staff each year. Although Alicia Weigel and Landon Shorts will be leaving us in 2021- we have been beyond lucky to have their involvement in our program. Both extremely accomplished student-athletes themselves, they have been able to translate their abilities and experiences for the betterment of our student-athletes. Our program wouldn’t be nearly as successful without their invaluable contributions.